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Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions

Developing talents, advancing research

Projects researching COVID–19, SARS-CoV-2 and related topics

The current COVID-19 outbreak has not caught EU-funded research off guard. The Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) of the European Commission are supporting outstanding researchers in finding solutions to challenges posed by the novel coronavirus disease COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.

This page will be regularly updated with MSCA projects, results and testimonials relevant to COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2 and related topics.


Diabetic nephropathy modelling in hESC-derived 3D kidney organoids

EPIORGABOLISM is studying how SARS-Co-V2, the coronavirus responsible for the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), interacts with and infects kidney cells. Together with the lung, the kidney is one of the main organs affected by the COVID-19 disease. Dr Carmen Hurtado, researcher of EPIORGABOLISM, is currently generating human kidney organoids from human pluripotent stem cells.

The use of human organoids allows to test treatments against coronavirus in an agile way, dramatically reducing the time human drug trials take. Hurtado is part of international research team has identified a drug capable of blocking the effects of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The findings have been partially supported by EPIORGABOLISM and published in the journal ‘Cell’.

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Host switching pathogens, infectious outbreaks and zoonosis; a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Training Network

HONOURs is teaching 15 talented young researchers, including coronavirologists, to become “preparedness-experts”. The project involves 11 laboratories, all at the forefront of novel virus investigations and characterizations. HONOUR reacted in January 2020, immediately after the emergence of COVID-19, by starting work on SARS-CoV-2. A synthetic biology virus culture system was developed to swiftly evaluate therapy options, next to rapid tests to determine virus shedding on location. The quality of protective immunity was evaluated, and a search started on the most suitable animal model to battle the virus and provide therapy options. HONOURs is devoting its expert knowledge to fight this coronavirus and provide therapy options.

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INnate-ImmunomeTabolIsm as Antiviral TargEt

The global COVID-19 pandemic highlights an urgent need for innovation in the development of novel antiviral strategies and therapies. INITIATE has recruited 15 young PhD candidates to become experts in the field of antiviral immunometabolism, with a focus on RNA viruses – including coronaviruses. While it is clear that viral replication, metabolic pathways, and host immune responses are tightly interconnected, the host molecular pathways that impact viral pathogenesis are not well-defined. With the emergence of COVID-19, eight of the INITIATE projects have included SARS-CoV-2 in their research programs to understand coronavirus molecular virology, the role of the host immune response in driving COVID-19 immunopathogenesis and the potential of targeting host metabolism as therapeutic strategies.

Organoids for Virus Research - An innovative training-ETN programme

ORGANOVIR is contributing to COVID-19 research in a variety of ways, and several of its researchers are currently working on the development of new antivirals to combat the disease. Researchers at KU Leuven (Belgium) are studying the way in which coronaviruses evolve, and are searching out possible targets for further remedies. The project also investigating active substances – or a combination of them – in existing medicines that could be effective against SARS-CoV-2. ORGANOVIR is also conducting pre-clinical tests for a vaccine against COVID-19 using a technology based on the yellow fever vaccine.

In parallel, a group of researchers at the Jagiellonian University (Poland) is studying the infection on the single-cell and tissue level in different organs and cell types, working on virus inhibitors and collaborating with companies to create a point of care diagnostics based on different platforms. The group is also studying the course of the pandemic in Poland and monitoring the virus variability in the country.

ORGANOVIR’s coordinators have been intensively working on clinical and diagnostic tasks and set up new COVID-19 research at the Amsterdam UMC (The Netherlands). This has resulted in the launch of COVID-KIDS, a study on immunity in children, and the use of 3D culture models for COVID-19 studies.

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Unravelling species barriers of coronaviruses

COV RESTRIC targeted the precise mechanisms that allow coronaviruses to jump across species. Dr Stephanie Pfänder, researcher of COV RESTRIC, worked on various virological aspects of emerging viruses – with a focus on emerging coronaviruses. Her work has the potential to lead to novel strategies to protect cells against coronavirus infection. This is crucial to fight the COVID-19 pandemic – and to help insulate society against future coronavirus outbreaks.

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Research and Innovation Staff Exchange Network of European Data Scientists

The NeEDS consortium is currently focusing on the emerging data challenges that come with the COVID-19 pandemic. In Spain, the first cases of the COVID-19 pandemic were confirmed late February 2020 and data started to be collected daily by the different regions. Data and Data Science tools turned out to be crucial to assist decision makers in this highly uncertain context. NeEDS and the scientific collaborations they enjoy were fundamental to create a working group of data scientists from different European universities, which has developed an Artificial Intelligence tool to provide short-term predictions of the pandemic’s evolution. With this novel methodology, NeEDS as contributed to the cooperative efforts coordinated by the Spanish Commission of Mathematics to support data-driven decision making related to the COVID19 pandemic. In a recent interview, Project Coordinator Dolores Romero Morales has reflected on the potential of the NeEDS expertise and the efforts of tackling these data challenges within the team. The consortium is tackling other important Data Science questions, e.g., using spatial data to support COVID19 information apps or addressing the pressing data privacy needs.

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Pan-genome Graph Algorithms and Data Integration

Researchers involved in PANGAIA are investigating how massive amounts of genome sequence data can be ordered and analysed for their use in biomedicine. Their work has important implications in areas such as bacteria and virus research, investigation of drug resistance mechanisms and vaccine development: big data technology can help to identify the characteristics of new strains of viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 and bacteria by comparing their genomes.

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Modelling Infectious Diseases in Dynamic, relocated, refugee populations

In order to assist policy-makers in mitigating outbreaks, MIDIDP has created realistic models to simulate the spread of infectious diseases in under-vaccinated refugee populations in Europe and neighbouring countries. Dr Hasan Güçlü, researcher of MIDIDP, has created a model that simulates the spread of COVID-19 in populations with variable demographics.

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Disability and Disease during the 1918 Influenza Pandemic: Implications for Preparedness Policies

As the current COVID-19 pandemic shows, people with disabilities are at increased risk for complications and death as they are often neglected in epidemic responses. Dr Jessica Dimka, researcher of DIS2, is exploring disability as a risk factor in pandemics. Using the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic as a model, the project seeks to promote more equitable public health plans and interventions. Dimka points out that people with disabilities must be considered in all pandemic strategies: their lives, livelihoods and rights are not expendable.

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Protecting Human Rights and Public Health in Global Pandemics

THEMIS is an interdisciplinary research project that reacts to the increasing occurrence of global pandemics, like the caused by the present COVID-19 disease, and restrictive public health measures taken to respond to these threats. Using a rights-based approach, Dr Patrycja Dąbrowska-Kłosińska, researcher of THEMIS, intends to create a better understanding of how to prepare for, and respond to, global pandemics.

The project seeks to offer a vital reference for policy-making at national, regional and global levels – one that prioritises fair pandemic preparedness to cross-border health threats. The project has offered critical guidance during the current COVID-19 pandemic, which has required a previously unimagined scale of coordinated, public health-control measures as well as consideration of human-rights implications worldwide.

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Martí I Franquès COFUND

Since the emergence of COVID-19, several fellows involved in the Martí Franquès Programme (MFP) have been working on solutions to the current crisis. Researchers are developing an epidemiological mathematical model that infers the status of the epidemic, thereby monitoring and estimating the impact of interventions on the spread of COVID-19.

In parallel, another group of researchers is implementing an original virtual screening protocol to reposition approved drugs. This would allow predicting which of them could inhibit the main protease of the virus (M-pro), a key target for antiviral drugs given its essential role in the virus replication.

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Project outcomes

The launch of a new industrial PhD programme at EPFL

Several fellows involved in the EPFLinnovators project are working on solutions to COVID-19 since the start of the crisis. Teams of researchers are developing subunit vaccines against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, investigating the potential use of cyclodextrin derivatives to prevent and treat the infections caused by SARS-CoV-2, and analysing the mechanical aspects of SARS-CoV-2 entry into cells.

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Project outcomes


LEaDing Fellows

Over the last decade, the reliance on online products and services has steadily increased, but since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic it has escalated to an unprecedented level. Dr Matthew Dennis, researcher of the LEaDing Fellows COFUND project at TU Delft (the Netherlands), examines the ethical implications and value trade-offs as societies attempt to transition across the digital divide. His project highlights that an ethical reflection on this digital transition is urgently needed, as digital solutions to problems generated by COVID-19 may create winners and losers – likely disproportionately affecting vulnerable users. By addressing these issues, the pandemic may foster the kind of social and political interconnectedness that was envisioned at the start of the crisis.

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MSCA on social media

The MSCA social media are continuously updated with testimonials of MSCA fellows, supervisors, coordinators and projects working to find solutions to challenges posed by COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.